Thursday, April 27, 2017

Policing and Walking a Beat

Policing in the old days involved a cop walking a beat.  Why walking?  So he could get to know his community and operate as part of a village raising its children to be law-abiding adults.  On his own, the cop was useless and vulnerable; as part of the community, he was one of its respected pillars.

As cities became larger and cars more popular, police adapted and got behind the wheel, too, obviously losing the personal touch.  Without the comfort of knowing who is familiar and unfamiliar, cities with exploding populations--especially L.A.--not only experienced "white flight" but also more aggressive policing methods. (See the documentary, O.J.: Made in America (2016), for details.)  One may argue the 2nd Amendment necessitates harsher methods, but if that was the case, why wasn't the "cop on the beat" decades ago as harsh as the cops in body armor today? 

Crime has always been with us, and policing methods have adapted to changing demographics. If you don't know your own neighborhood, you may decide to treat everyone as a potential threat or as a potential ally.  Police in America today have decided to go with the former to ensure their own safety.  Such an approach is sure to fail, because treating others with prejudiced suspicion always breeds contempt. Once contempt is created, dialogue becomes more difficult, and eventually things fall apart.  

When schools teach Jim Crow and segregation, they always mention fire hoses and police dogs, but not demographics and policing methods.  What are police--who must generally follow orders--supposed to do when mayors or city councils order them to disperse a crowd, even a peaceful one?  If the mayor is getting his or her ear chewed off by small and large business owners who are losing sales because streets are blocked off or consumers are hesitant to come inside and shop, what is the mayor supposed to do? These days, American protests don't accomplish much because they're too staged and shut down no real activity.  The pop stars giving speeches never go to jail, so there's no sense of danger.  It's like a sporting event--everyone gets to blow off some steam and go home.  

Meanwhile, the real action is done horse-trading political favors behind the scenes, with each government agency trying to get as much money as possible while placating voters. The politician today stands for nothing save the following question: "How much can I give this agency for their collective votes, and how much can I raise taxes or borrow to pay for it before my voters get so frustrated, they vote me out?" 

Students who study Jim Crow and other policing methods in the South should also study the liberal, open, and lovely college town of UC Davis. In 2011, a police officer used pepper spray on undeniably peaceful student protestors.  In the aftermath of worldwide outrage, UC Davis--a public university--used taxpayer dollars to pay consultants at least $175,000 to help its image online.  

As for the cop using the pepper spray?  He applied for worker's compensation and won more than $38,055 for suffering he experienced after the incident. Did anything really change after 2011 in California with respect to police power and its use against residents and voters?  Not at all.  Did police officers become more open to accepting the consequences of following clearly unjust orders? Nope.  If anything, police--and other government entities, such as teachers--became more powerful and cloistered as their unions continued to lobby for greater legal protections.

The modern American political system is rigged in favor of large, coordinated groups against the individual--regardless of merit or principle.  That's how democratic institutions typically work, except it's much harder to root out corruption when it's economic and when debt and paper stock market gains do better cover-up jobs than any "special investigations unit." 

In Brian De Palma's 1987 thriller, The Untouchables, Sean Connery plays a beat cop, Jim Malone, and asks Kevin Costner’s character, Eliot Ness, what he’s prepared to do to nab a notorious mobster--insinuating it’s going to take more than aboveboard policing methods to take down Al Capone, who will do anything to ensure he's the most feared and powerful man in Chicago.  What do Americans do now, when the most feared and powerful entities are not the criminals, but the police and other government employees, who are backed by judges they helped elect or appoint? What happened to government employees as pillars of their communities rather than the least accountable persons in them?  

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